4. What’s going on in the design world: The Frictionless Cult
« Frictionless, the new business goal »
« The future of invisible, frictionless computers »
« Frictionless product design »
These titles of articles are just a few examples of the quantity of information one can find on the subject. The design world seems to be obsessed with the idea of going from A to B in the fastest, smoothest and most efficient way. Whether it is called frictionless, seamless or streamlined, it is a hot topic. The claim, that Steve Krug makes his in his book, Don’t make me think, is that a design is ideal when its use is effortless (2006). A good example is the Amazon dash button, that allows you to order a refill of a specific product by a single push of it.
Indeed, we can observe in the physical world as well as in the digital one that the current idea of friction is that of a process that wastes energy (Hsu, Ying and Zhao, 2014). Therefore it is not something that designers want to see hindering the products or services they create.
To confirm this trend, in an article about How startups compete with friction in product design, Sangeet Choudari (2013), notes that the era we are in increasingly values frictionlessness as desirable design. And Anders Arnqvist, Senior Interaction Designer, pushes this opinion by saying that if our goal, as designers, is the same as the user’s, then frictionless is an ideal. We should thrive for simplicity and work to remove frictions from customer experiences. In other words, acting like a bulldozer that flattens all the bumps on the road between the user and its goal, making everything easier and effortless.
Victoria Young goes even further in an article about Strategic UX. She explains that frictionless user experience is now a new standard, a vital minimum to survive in the fast moving world of technology (2015). The idea is that if you do not reach frictionlessness, bankruptcy is at the door of your company. Aaron Levie explains it in very simple words:
« If you are making the customer do any extra amount of work, no matter what industry you call home, you are now a target for disruption. »
That doesn’t leave us with much options and can explain the current context which is close to a cult whose god would be the ultimate frictionless experience.
In the following chapters, we will try to answer an important question, raised by this context:
With the current trend of frictionless design, are we creating a desirable future where happiness is the norm or are we creating an assisted living community as Steve Selzer mentions it (2015)? Are every frictions to be eliminated at all cost or is there such a thing as a productive friction, whether it is on short or long term?
To find some answers and reach an hypothesis, we will study the benefits of both frictionlessness and frictions as well as their limits.
Read next — 5. About frictionlessness
Choudary, S.P. (2013) How startups compete with friction in product design — platform strategy Blog. Available at: http://platformed.info/traction-friction-matrix/ (Accessed: 21 March 2016).
Hsu, S., Ying, C. and Zhao, F. (2013) ‘The nature of friction: A critical assessment’, Friction, 2(1), pp. 1–26. doi: 10.1007/s40544–013–0033-z.
Krug, S. (2005) Don’t make me think!: A common sense approach to web usability. 2nd edn. Berkeley, CA: New Riders Publishing.
Levie, A. (2012) The simplicity thesis. Available at: http://www.fastcompany.com/1835983/simplicity-thesis (Accessed: 22 March 2016).
Selzer, S. (2015) Frog. Available at: http://designmind.frogdesign.com/2015/05/human-centered-design-why-empathy-isnt-everything/ (Accessed: 22 March 2016).
Young, V. (2015) Strategic UX: The art of reducing friction. Available at: http://www.dtelepathy.com/blog/business/strategic-ux-the-art-of-reducing-friction (Accessed: 21 March 2016).
Arnqvist A. (2016) Senior Interaction Designer at Veryday [1 February, 2016]